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Review: Disney's Saving Mr. Banks

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For quite a while now, “Saving Mr. Banks” has generated both positive reviews and even Oscar buzz during the film's pre-release period. Now that the film has been released, general audiences can see what all the talk is about.

"Saving Mr. Banks," the heart-warming and often humorous story of how Walt Disney brought the novel "Mary Poppins" to life on the big screen, is now in movie theaters across the United States. There is so much to love about this film, but parents should give consideration to the PG-13 warning if they are planning to bring young children to see it.

Although we know Disney's adaptation of "Mary Poppins" eventually earns five Academy Awards for Disney Studios, what many of us probably didn't know is that it took 20 years to produce. "Saving Mr. Banks" gives us that back story. The film shows how Disney's daughters begged him to make a movie of their favorite book, but even Hollywood's animation genius could not easily persuade P.L. Travers to hand over control of her beloved nanny. With her finances in poor shape, though, Travers finally agrees to consider selling the rights during a two-week trip to California.

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Oscar winners Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson star as Walt Disney and author P.L. Travers, respectively, and both performances are immensely convincing. Hanks plays the congenial yet savvy filmmaker, while Thompson is a persnickety woman who is unyielding in her opinions. Together, their interactions produce many memorable conversations and more than a few laughs.

How could anyone familiar with the Disney brand not chuckle when Travers first walks into her hotel room and sees that every surface is covered by plush cartoon characters and gift baskets. The over-the-top display has the opposite effect of what Disney intended. Still, in the end, the oversized Mickey Mouse stuffed animal becomes a touching symbol of her acceptance and their partnership.

But to get to that point, director John Lee Hancock has to explain why Travers has such a tight grip on Mary Poppins, who, Travers points out, is never called by just her first name. Hancock adeptly uses flashbacks throughout the movie to show Travers growing up in rural Australia. Her childhood, though filled with much love, was tainted by an alcoholic father (played by Colin Farrell) whose addiction cost him many jobs, the family's home in town, respect in the community and, ultimately, his life.

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This theme is where the PG-13 rating comes into play. Most elementary-school-age children are going to have a hard time understanding the downward spiral of alcoholism, and "Saving Mr. Banks" does not shy away from showing the effects. Her father, Travers Goff, shows up drunk at a public ceremony and makes a spectacle of himself, embarrassing his family. He is reprimanded by his boss at the bank in front of his daughter. And, most disturbing -- though compelling -- is the scene where P.L. Travers (whose real name is Helen Lyndon Goff) sees her father's body right after he dies and his eyes are still open. That could be the stuff of nightmares for young children, especially if they don't understand the nuances of the story and the realistic effects used by the filmmakers to show death.

For adults, though, the context shows how the events of her childhood shaped P.L. Travers as an adult and influenced her writing. And that's what Disney finally understands will help him win over Travers -- proving that he will treat her memories with empathy in the film he wants to make. There is a real-life Mary Poppins, but it is not necessarily the nanny's reputation that Travers is concerned about. Instead, she wants her father remembered not just for his faults but also for his love of his family and her special bond with him.

"Saving Mr. Banks" really is a movie for older children and adults -- and as such, it's certainly an entertaining and memorable experience. Younger children, though, may delight in the film that is the subject of this movie, "Mary Poppins," which just has been re-released for its 50th anniversary.

DISCLAIMER: I viewed "Saving Mr. Banks" at a media screening before its official release. This did not affect my review; my opinions are my own.



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Comments (4)

Billy Lagstrom:

Im sure anyone who knows me might say Im biased about Disney movies but that's only a little true. I hated The Lone Ranger but Saving Mr Banks was a wonderful movie.Saving Mr banks was a movie that kept you interested and was written very well.At times it was funny and then it had moments you had to wipe the tear from your cheeks.The acting was very good by everyone and i have to put this movie in the top 3 of 2013.

Jerry Nash:

I have taken my 3 kids (not kids anymore) to WDW from the Pacific NW 5 times in the last 12 years. Our most recent visit was in 2013 and each was allowed to bring a friend who had never been to Disney for 2 weeks at Pop Century and the parks. It was a departure from our previous family only routine but I’m so happy I did it because it allowed me to witness them sharing first time memories with others which made it feel more like some of our early visits when they would literally jump with joy at learning we were going.

When I heard of the Saving Mr. Banks movie, I thought it would be a great way to get the “Disney Group” together again over the holidays. So I had everyone over one night and we watched Marry Poppins just to refresh our memory as I thought it might add to the Saving Banks movie experience. We then watched Saving Mr. Banks on the evening of New Year’s Day.

My son and I were the only ones who spent any time learning some of the back story and were both a bit skeptical of how the movie would deal with this. But I think they did a really great job of painting a pretty complete picture. The movie did hold your attention from beginning to end, included a lot of laughs (at both Disney’s and Travers’ expense) and had some very touching emotional parts. It was especially difficult not to succumb to tears along with Travers during the scene dealing with her viewing of the movie at the Hollywood Premiere.

Like Walt himself being enlightened by Travers that the story was NOT about Mary Poppins saving the children (and seeming to be astonished that Walt had not figured this out himself), Saving Mr. Banks will leave you thinking of Mary Poppins the story/movie in an entirely new way. A 1960’s classic movie now revealed to the world and newer generations as a classic real life drama.

I have often tried as they have grown to give my children moments and memories they can remember our family by when I am gone and our trips to WDW were a part of that. But the Tom Hanks’ rendition of Walt explaining to Travers at her home back in London why a father introduces “fantasy” to children made the root desire for this habit and desire even clearer to me.

A great story and the best movie experience I have had in quite awhile.

Josh Hopkins:

I thought Saving Mr. Banks was an excellent movie. Being a die hard Disney fan it was not a choice of yes or no when it comes to seeing this film but when. Tom Hanks does a fantastic job capturing the spirit of Walt. Emma Thompson plays the surly yet appealing Travers. Novak and Schwartz did a nice job playing the Sherman Bros. To me the best part of the movie was not the scenes that involved Hanks but the ones that introduced the audience to the backstory of P.L. Travers and what events have developed her character as well as her characters.

This is a must see for not only Disney fans but for anyone that enjoys the stories behind the stories!

Elizabeth G:

I recently saw Saving Mr. Banks and I agree that it was a wonderful movie- quite possibly the best movie I have seen in a while! Thanks for the review.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on December 21, 2013 5:33 AM.

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